Games remote people can play

Have you been there? You’re on a teleconference making a presentation to an audience that is dialing in from multiple places. Your oratory wizardry culminates in an amazing conclusion and then . . . . silence. Maybe crickets chirp in a distant meadow, but nobody on the phone says a single word.

Remote meetings are tough, even when they involve a team of people who are on the phone together a lot. As a speaker in this situation, gone are the facial expressions and head nods that indicate that people get what you are saying as are the sleepy eye lids that send a less than subtle message. Without those cues, its hard to know how to interpret the silence, increasing the need for verbal interaction.

So, how do you encourage some participation and prevent a teleconference from developing into a speech that nobody is listening to? Prime the pump with a game.

The following works particularly well for groups that meet regularly but with a large percentage of participants on the phone. The idea is to create a situation where people start off the meeting interacting with one another with the hope that it carries over to the real business at hand. Amazingly, it works more often than you might think.

The game, called Google Words and invented by my friend Brian, requires everyone be connected online. The person running the game picks a word, for example a common word like”bottle”. All players have 30 seconds to add their own word to the one given, perhaps “baby” or “beer” in the example given. The player who comes up with the combination that renders the highest number of results on a Google search wins. Score the rounds giving 5 points for first place, 3 for second, and 1 for third. Four or 5 rounds usually gives a team of 6-8 people enough chances so that everybody gets a chance to score some points, and speak up in the process. A natural banter typically emerges as well and gets people in the mood to interact with each other instead of ignoring the speaker while checking email or stock prices.

Depending upon what your meeting is about, you can do one of a couple different things with the results. Maybe the top scorer after all the rounds gets some small prize or you keep cumulative score over a month and hand out rewards. Perhaps the low scorer has to host the game at the next meeting or you are having some sort of status meeting, let the game results determine the order in which people report on what they have been doing.

You have to watch out, though. People are tricky and somebody will quickly figure out that you can sometimes add the name of someone popular in the news to create an unnaturally high Google search result. To combat this, you may have to eliminate proper nouns from the searches or restrict the added words to adjectives. Or better yet, have some of the rounds turn the tables and have the winner be the person who can come up with the least number of search results instead of the greatest.

The whole idea is to get people to engage with each other so they can get out of a passive mode. Ten minutes at the beginning of a session can spark conversation and make the time better spent for everyone.


6 Responses to “Games remote people can play”

  1. Tac Says:

    Sounds fun but honestly… many times do you actually keep it to under 10 min 🙂

  2. Pete Johnson Says:

    OK, maybe 15 min 8).


  3. Pete Johnson Says:

    A faithful reader pointed me to this:

    Pretty cool.

  4. Process empowerment and team building through retrospectives | Nerd Guru Says:

    […] Play Google Words. Given that we were having a meeting that worked best with everyone’s participation, we […]

  5. How do you optimize remote teams? | Nerd Guru Says:

    […] some sense of team across those physical boundaries can be difficult and I’ve written before (Google Words, for example) of how great managers I’ve had have dealt with […]

  6. Impressing your friends as a motivator for excellence | Nerd Guru Says:

    […] lucky enough to find this in my own career. For me, that person is my friend Brian (inventor of Google Words). I’ve got about 4 years on him and, back in the day, thought I was a stud C++ programmer […]

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